And now, it's time for this week's synopsis critique! The author of ELEGY FOR THE LIVING, a 75,000-word Adult Suspense novel, submitted this synopsis. My in-line comments are [blue and in brackets], and I'll include a summary at the end. Feel free to comment below!
If you'd like a primer on how to write a synopsis, see my posts here and here. And if you want your synopsis critiqued on this website, fill out the form here, or email your 1-2 page synopsis to me at email@example.com, and I'll post one critique per week (NOTE: I'll email my critique to the author as soon as I'm done, so the author won't have to wait to see his/her synopsis on the site). Thanks for participating!
It’s 1945. [Where? A lot of things were going on in 1945, so adding the location will help situate the reader quickly] Celia Turner is content working as a nurse and living with her mother, Pamela. [How old is Celia?] She dislikes the seedy town and the small-minded people who have labeled her a ‘spinster.’
Celia and her mother share a secret - Pamela is really Celia’s grandmother. [I'd add ', her Nana' here if you want to refer to her as Nana throughout the rest of the synopsis] Because Celia was born out-of-wedlock, Pamela moved the two of them to Manchester hoping to start a new life free from gossip and rejection. Pamela is Celia’s Nana. [You can delete this sentence, because you told us Pamela is Celia's grandmother in the first sentence] Celia has a secret of her own. She grieves for the father she will never have. [What happened to her mother?] [Also, Celia's grief for her unknown father never recurs in the synopsis. Either delete that sentence or describe how it impacts her actions and/or decision-making throughout the rest of the novel]
When she reluctantly (at first) becomes involved with David - a physician completing his residency – her world is flipped upside-down. [What specifically happens to cause her world to flip? Because she's fallen in love with him? Because he's not who he says he is? Add a little detail here] After a hasty wedding, they plan to move to his home-town of Elegy, a place no one has ever heard of. But when Nana falls [Pick either Pamela or Nana to refer to her consistently throughout the synopsis], breaking an ankle, he reluctantly agrees to take her with them - temporarily.
The mountain-locked village seems perfect – at first. After David discovers she’s [Celia's] pregnant, [I'd change this so the focus remains on Celia: 'After Celia tells David she's pregnant...'] he grows distant and uncommunicative - as do the people of Elegy. The residents are harboring a strange secret and Celia and Nana set out to learn what it is.
As Celia’s pregnancy advances, her marriage deteriorates regardless of [despite] her efforts to salvage it. And when she unearths the deadly secret, she is torn with indecision. The residents believe that the surrounding mountains form a magnetic vortex where the souls of the deceased remain until reincarnated at birth. [Is there any evidence that this is actually occurring? In other words, is it accurate to label this novel as magical realism, or are the townspeople's beliefs about the vortex false, and Celia's goal is to discredit them and/or protect herself (rather than utilizing magic in some way)?] To maintain the fragile ecological balance, with each birth, the eldest person must die. [Do the mountains somehow cause the deaths or do the townspeople actively kill the elderly?] Celia’s dream of raising her child in a clean, safe community with a loving father has become a nightmare. Initially heart-broken, her sadness turns to anger. [What does she do to manifest that anger?]
The residents, fearing Nana will reveal the secret to the rest of the world, make it clear that she cannot leave. [Why are the residents concerned about Nana, as opposed to Celia? And if Celia left and gave birth elsewhere, wouldn't that protect Nana?] Nana’s name is entered on the list of those next to die – the second from the top.
Winter is coming. There is only one other pregnant woman in town so Nana and Celia devise a plan for Nana to escape in the spring. But when Celia discovers she is carrying twins, the date must be moved up. [Again, why doesn't Celia just leave? Is she still loyal to her husband, who has tricked her into coming to this town and doesn't seem to speak to her anymore? If she is still loyal, why?] A sudden blizzard approaches and the only road out will be blocked for months. Celia and Nana have no choice. They must leave tonight. After dark.
On the way down the mountain, the car slides into a snowbank. Nana is injured. Labor begins but Celia manages to walk back into town where she discovers that the woman she thought was her friend intends to let her die and take the babies. And the woman she thought was her enemy, comes to her rescue. [Who are these women? Consider introducing them earlier in the synopsis, because then the role-reversal described here will have more of an impact] [How specifically does her enemy come to her rescue?]
Spring. The ground thaws and Celia stands at the grave of the only mother she’s ever known [So Nana dies? We definitely need more detail about how and when that happened] holding twins that bear no resemblance to either her or David. [So... there is a magical element here? Or did someone switch the babies? If Celia knows what's going on by the end, so should the reader]
This is a short, tight, well-written synopsis for what seems to be a truly creepy, suspenseful plot! Most of my critiques involve needing more in terms of character motivations, ensuring consistency throughout the main plot-line, and adding more detail to certain plot points to fill in the blanks for the reader.
Also, I'm not sure based on the synopsis whether the plot contains a fantasy or magical aspect, or whether it's purely psychological suspense/horror. If the former, you should emphasize that in the synopsis and make sure you note it in the query so agents will know what kind of book you've written (a suspense novel with a magical realism or fantastical element would be marketed differently from a realistic suspense novel).
If you want to stick with a one-page synopsis, then you can combine the first two paragraphs (as they're all set-up) and delete some of the content there. That'll leave you with some room to address some of my questions (about Celia's friends, about why Celia doesn't try to leave Elegy earlier, and especially, what happens at the end), should you choose to do so.
It sounds like an exciting book! Best of luck to you.
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